A street food market could return to Lewisham town centre when works to transform its high street are finished in 2026, councillors heard last night.

Lewisham Council won £19 million in levelling-up money from the government in January and plans to revamp the library, the street market and the look and feel of the high street.

The library, which is due to close on Saturday for the work to be carried out, would become a cultural and business hub, with plans including a rooftop bar

The plans also include using the market area in the evenings as well as during the day. Councillors said they hoped to emulate the success of the street food fair in the old Model Market, which was open from 2014 until 2021.

Eva Stamirowski, a councillor for Catford South, said that it had been “hugely, hugely popular and people came to Lewisham specifically to go to Model Market”.

Model Market
Model Market closed for the last time in September 2021. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

“There’s nothing there now,” she told John Bennett, the council officer overseeing the plans. “So have you thought about getting something like that into the market in the evening? Because we’ve got a huge pedestrianised area there that is a draw to criminal behaviour in the evenings.

“Let’s say a Friday, Saturday, Sunday – or whichever day  – food market there. There’s so many people who live in Lewisham now. All those those flats, they’re like dormitory flats because people live in them, but they don’t really go anywhere in Lewisham because there’s not really that many places to go.”

Bennett, the council’s head of economy, jobs and partnerships, told the sustainable development select commitee that it “exactly the sort of thing that we think there’s an opportunity to do in Lewisham centre to have a nighttime food market or an evening food market, one on a Sunday or whenever it might be”.

Model Market opened at weekends during the summer months in an area once used by small and mainly Black-owned businesses. But Street Feast – the company behind it and the ill-fated Public in Woolwich – went out of business in late 2021. Bennett said that Lewisham had been in discussions with LandSec, the owner of the Lewisham Centre, about bringing it back into use.

Lewisham Market
There were worries that a changed market could lead to gentrification. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

“We have been in conversations with LandSec and the shopping centre and trying to encourage them to get that reopened, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to have happened yet. There’s often positive talk of it happening, but no sign of it yet. If that’s not going to happen, then I think there’s certainly an opportunity for us to do that.”

Bennett added that a new monthly food market held on Sundays at Cornmill Gardens, next to the Glass Mill leisure centre, showed the potential.  

Edison Hunyh, one of the area’s local Lewisham Central councillors, said he agreed with Stamirowski. “A lot of time we speak to residents and they live in Lewisham but they don’t necessarily spend their money in Lewisham,” he said. “It’d be great to have that night time economy back.”

Lewisham’s plans to attract more people to its main town centre in the evenings echo those of Greenwich Council, which is starting work on a revamp of the area around Woolwich market in the hope of bringing more custom to Beresford Square later in the day.

In Lewisham’s case, the area historically had a cluster of pubs close to the station and the former Lewisham Odeon. The cinema closed in 1981 and the Duke of Cambridge, Man of Kent, the Roebuck and the Plough were demolished in the 1990s and 2000s to make way for the Docklands Light Railway extension and the Lewisham Gateway development.

Sian Eiles, a Brockley councillor, said she also wanted to see nightlife return to Lewisham, but said she was worried the market changes would badly affect existing traders and shoppers.

“Sometimes these sorts of improvements actually push out some of the traders who provide cheap food and other resources for our lower-income residents,” she said. “Sometimes the regeneration agenda actually just becomes a gentrification agenda. The obvious example in this part of the world is Brixton market.”

Seamus Adams, the market’s manager, said the council wanted to keep “the bread and butter” of “a very successful six-day market, one of the most successful in London. We want to keep that.”

Lewisham Library render
Lewisham’s library will become a “culture and business hub” from 2026 Credit: Lewisham Council

“We’re manufacturing the stalls to the same look and feel that they were there 30 years ago, so we don’t take away that look and feel of the market,” he said.

Students in the area’s recently-built blocks would be encouraged to visit the market, he added.

But Bennett warned of “value engineering” in the high street revamp, as high inflation meant that some elements may have to be trimmed back.

Lewisham Library
The present library will close on Saturday for refurbishment. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

Asked by Perry Vale councillor John Paschoud what was meant by “value engineering”, Bennett said: “That’s about looking at whether there’s opportunities to save money through using different quality materials or reducing the number of things that might be offered in a particular area. 

“That might be going for a gold standard level of paving or finish on something going for a silver or bronze standard.”

The council is hoping to finish the work by spring 2026. Big change will come to Lewisham before then, though, with the massive Lewisham Gateway development of flats, workspaces, shops and a cinema due to be finally completed in spring next year – 15 years after it was initially given the go-ahead.